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On incurably loving the beginnings of novels

I’m on page 147 of my new novel in progress. Those of you who’ve been following my posts may wonder why I’ve added so few pages to my previous number.

Water Lily Pond Water Irises - Monet

Water Lily Pond Water Irises – Monet

Well. The short, blithely cheerful answer is: I’ve had to recast, rewrite. It wasn’t quite working. Now I believe it is, thank goodness. But nevertheless I’m only on page 147.

Not that I mind being in the first half of the WIP. Not at all. I rather wish I had seen the issues ahead of time and not had to change the structure–but oh, it’s been a lovely time of re-connecting with my story, of finding it’s true roots. Incurably, I love the beginnings of novels. And this is the subject of today’s post: the mental state of being at the front-end of the novel.

Other authors do not love the beginning. Mary Higgins Clark has said:

“The first four months of writing a book, my mental image is scratching with my hands through granite.”

In contrast to this–quite common, I believe–writing experience is mine:

Springtime at Giverny - Monet

Springtime at Giverny – Monet

“The first hundred pages or so, my mental attitude is that of being lost in a fun house–no, not lost, more staggering from one wonder to another”

Once I have a general plot and I know my novel’s theme and major characters, it’s as though a door opens, and here is a world which was always there, people who have always existed, and a truth I’ve been waiting to tell. It is the miracle of fiction writing, that the mind weaves lies which become the truest thing we know.

The first hundred pages can be exasperating. There are many side paths which look germane, but which really are other books. Not this book. One might take a few steps in, and then realize, no, that’s not my story. So beginnings are largely about choices. We must choose from an embarrassment of riches. We must not gorge, indulge or be swept away by possibilities. Well, perhaps some of this on the first draft. But we know in our hearts that we must later, cut, cut, cut.

The first hundred or hundred and fifty pages are a time of intense creative fire and at times, joy. I know that I’m being shown a tremendous story, and that inevitably, I will get only some of it right. But nothing in my life quite matches the pleasure of getting to try, and watching the book come to life on the page.

After page 147?

Oh, that is another story. There will be granite and a small portion of boredom… Another post!


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